Goal-Setting Through the Growth Mindset
As an educator, nothing moves me more than seeing young people overcome obstacles that hold them back from achieving success in school. This is not just about PE, but in general, the need for students to develop a constant and unwavering belief that they can do anything that they set their minds to. There is no question that I love teaching PE and have devoted my life to being the best that I can be at it. I firmly believe that physical education has the power to change the lives of young people forever, especially when delivered in way that allows every student to to thrive.
But, the longer I teach PE, the more I realize that our subject area can and should offer so much more to the young people passing through our programs. Does physical literacy need to play a dominant role in any PE program? Without question, YES. Maximizing opportunities to build and strengthen levels of cardiovascular fitness should also be at the forefront of any quality physical education program. But, first and foremost, I believe that the most pressing issue needing to be addressed is the mindset of the students that we teach in PE.
Regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or personality type, mindset is everything. Helping to develop a growth mindset in our young learners brings so much value to their lives both in and out of school.
I have just finished off teaching one of the best units I have ever taught in PE. Many readers on my blog know that student ownership over learning is something that I embrace in my program. I try to provide students with as many genuine opportunities as possible to design their own learning, but do so in a purposeful way.
I want to share a recent ‘Growth Mindset’ unit of inquiry that took place in the grade 4 classroom. It was one of those units that I had to get PE totally involved in as there were so many authentic learning connections and links. I fully collaborated with classroom teachers during the planning phases of this unit keeping them informed of everything that was happening with their students in PE. The big ideas being explored in this unit can be seen in the photo below. I broke down what each of these concepts means with my students during the first few weeks of the unit.
Before going any further about this unit, I must ‘fess’ up and let you know that I was actually required to teach an Adventure Challenge unit. However, integrated learning is such a powerful thing when done right and I felt that I had sound pedagogical justification for pulling the plug on adventure challenge and replacing it with a wonderful substituted integrated learning experience instead.
The first thing that I needed to think about was how I was going to ensure that the student learning outcomes from the adventure challenge unit were still going to be met despite changing the main focus over to more of a goal-setting type unit. My student learning outcomes are quite broad and allow for flexibility. I found that it was not a stretch making these student learning outcomes fit.
The main aim of the newly shaped integrating Growth Mindset unit was essentially to allow students to select their own goals, something that they had little experience in or considered themselves not very good at. Through play, exploration, and lots of repetition, they had to set a smart and specific goal that they would work toward over the following 6-7 weeks in PE. I published a progress update on my blog earlier on in the unit here if you want some more background.
As the adventure challenge unit dealt with learning outcomes such as Group Dynamics, Coping With Situations of Change & Adversity, Interactions With Others, Rights & Responsibilities in Relationship With Others, and Making Informed Choices & Evaluating Consequences, in my eyes there was a perfect fit. I had no intention to actually assess the physical skills related to their growth mindset goal. Instead I was more focused on their mindset itself and how they worked together with others who had similar goals. I was observing how engaged they were in the unit and even checking their heart rates from time to time to see their level of physical exertion.
A few relevant examples here. I had two boys (who really don’t hang out together) select a goal related to baseball. They both wanted to throw more accurately and catch better using a baseball glove. Together they came up with loads of activities that were challenging for them. They worked great together, supported one another, and were 100% engaged the entire unit. They brought their own baseball gloves each class and made loads of progress. It was great to observe. The only times I stepped in were to give little tips here and there or to actually throw and play catch with them.
There were a group of students who selected badminton as their main focus, but within this group there were several distinctly different goals. The group worked together, creating games that worked specifically on the goals that they had set.
I had two girls choose skipping as their growth mindset goal. At the start of the unit, it was clear to see that they were not very skilled in skipping struggling with coordination. However as the unit went on, they showed a continued belief in themselves and worked extremely hard. Near they end of the unit, they were both skipping in the 70-90 skips a minute range showing a vast improvement overall. Never once did I have to step in to tell them anything, coach them, or give them specific drills to do. The two girls did it all on their own! I was so proud of them.
As you can see, my final assessment task was more reflective in nature. As I wasn’t assessing their physical skills, I was more concerned with how they felt about themselves, what they were most proud of in the unit, and what frustrated them the most. I also asked a very important question to finish off the task. I asked them if they would like to see more goal-setting type units in PE. Out of the 60 grade 4 students that I teach 100% of them want to see more units like this in PE.
Below are some powerful reasons why. Very strong reasons and evidence to show that students love choice in PE. They want to make their own choices and when we give them every opportunity possible to have ownership over their learning, they can and will succeed! It is clear from this unit that my students want further goal setting in PE, so I will listen to them and honor their wishes. Great learning, having fun, and playing with a purpose is what it's all about!! If you have tried this in your PE program I would love to hear about it.